Random Extra: Old, bold and The Power of the Daleks (2016)

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Of all the missing stories, The Power of the Daleks is the one we seem most desperate to piece back together. There have been photonovels and reconstructions and now an animation. I saw this latest version in the same cinema where I’d watched The Day of the Doctor nearly three years ago. That was an experience jam packed with new fans. Power was for a die hard audience of about 20. And it soon became apparent why.

I’ll get to that in a bit. First though… lights dim…   DumdaDum, DumdaDum… Ah, but there is something great about hearing that theme music in cinema quality sound. So exciting when it starts up and that smoky old title sequence looks great on the big screen. It does nothing to help you get over the fantasy that the actual episodes might have magically turned up and the whole animation thing’s been an elaborate ruse. But then the animation starts and you’re watching talking cartoons again. Ah well. Keep looking Phil.

I’ve talked about the animations before. They are labours of love and again the people behind them have worked immensely hard under a punishing timeframe. Power is one of the better efforts but as with all which have gone before, it’s clear that there’s never enough time or money awarded to these things. Glitches have inevitably crept in. Hats, jackets and whole outfits sometimes appear and disappear between shots. At one stage, Lesterson’s arm is sheared by a sharp vertical line. In some shots, Janley’s head doesn’t match up with her neck. And on the whole, faces, limbs and bodily movement are restricted to a few variations on templated norms, and thus regularly show up the limitations of the piece.

It can’t seriously compare with the standards of broadcast animation you’d expect on TV, let alone in the cinema. But it does have an advantage in the Daleks. Their geometric design and their smooth, gliding motion are made for animation. When it’s just them on screen, the whole thing bristles with greater confidence.

But even those animation friendly Daleks can’t help the problems involved in matching up to a 50-year-old mostly missing adventure. Yes, we have scripts, telesnaps and publicity photos to help animators fill the gaps, but seeking for verisimilitude with the original doesn’t always help. Power, like all drama, has frequent moments of silence. In the original, these which would have been filled by actorly and directorial flourishes. But in the animation, these moments often feel static and awkward.

There are numerous instances of this, but by way of, um, illustration, here’s one. In Episode 1, the Doctor walks across Lesterson’s lab and into the Dalek capsule. In the original, Patrick Troughton and director Christopher Barry would have conspired to make those silent seconds suspenseful and intriguing. Here, it’s just a cartoon figure wobbling from one side of the frame to another. It’s dull and it goes on too long. And that drag in pace happens over and over again. So many close ups held too long on a solitary face. Too many two-shots stretched out until the next line of dialogue. Too many shots with nothing happening, then something, then nothing happening again.

It happens because the production has made no edits to the original audio, which they might have been tempted to do to pick up the pace. Fine, many will say. We want Power to be complete as possible. But can’t we trim a static scene a little here? Can’t we top and tail a few seconds of incomprehensible silence there? Can’t we take out that telltale sound of Dalek casters rolling on wooden rostra, and let them float in eerie silence? Can’t we – just as a general rule – edit the audio to make this an easier experience to watch?

(The funny thing is, the strict commitment to re-presentation of the original audio, doesn’t extend to the pictures. Director Charles Norton says on the supporting featurette, Destination: Vulcan, that the finished result is about a 50% shot-by-shot recreation of the original. So it’s surely the less faithful 50% which includes visual references to Magpie Electronics, from the 21st century’s The Idiot’s Lantern. It’s a fun reference. And it shows that the animators aren’t wedded to absolute adherence to the original pictures. So why the audio?)

I can guess the response from the purists, though: where do you stop? Start trimming the story back, and why not edit out some of the duller scenes? Why not add a subplot or other characters (perhaps even a third female character)? Why not, gasp, rewrite the whole thing? You’d have to recast the voices, but that’s possible… right, Big Finish?

It would be heresy to some. But do we want a version of Power which is only of interest to purists, like the 20 die hards in the cinema with me? Or do we want one which a general audience might warm to?

I’ll stick my neck out: we need to be brave. Let’s cut these old stories up. Remix them. We weren’t always so precious about these things; look at the sixties Dalek movies. New versions of old stories in new mediums for new audiences. We’ll reimagine Shakespeare and the Beatles… why not Doctor Who?

If they’re going to recreate further missing Doctor Who episodes, be they animated or live action (and frankly, the latter could make a cracking digital only series for the BBC), I hope they will be bolder. If they stick with animation, the obvious candidate is The Evil of the Daleks with Doctor and Dalek character designs already done. Rassilon knows, there’s a story which could do with a little restructuring. If they do turn to Evil, I hope they make the best version they can, not the most reverent version they can.

After all, that’s exactly the approach Russell T Davies took. When reinventing the program, he didn’t treat Doctor Who like it was made of glass. He knew it wouldn’t break. The same rule could by applied to missing episodes, and if they aren’t coming back, they’ll have to be remade to be seen. Which would be great for us long term fans but also for new fans – because these are at heart, great stories. But make them new. Just like the best Doctor Who, such as The Power of the Daleks, always was.

NEXT TIME… normal service is resumed with The Faceless Ones.

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